If Tennessee plays like Tarzan at home, it's fair to say it's looked more like Jane on the road. The Vols have upset two ranked teams inside Thompson-Boling Arena this season and boast a 10-2 home record. The road has been much less kind. Rick Barnes' squad has won just one game away from Knoxville and is coming off an 85-67 drubbing at the hands of Arkansas on Saturday.
"Yeah, that has been our pattern," Barnes said. "It is not a great feeling when you go into games wondering who is going to show up and who is not. When I say `show up,' I don't want you to think that guys don't care. I don't know if it is a mindset or a comfort level. I don't know. When you go on the road and you are like we are, you have to have more than two guys ready to play. We haven't gotten it consistently."
While Kevin Punter, who is the nation's eighth-leading scorer with 23.2 points per game, and Armani Moore, who does a little bit of everything for the Vols, turn in mostly-consistent performances, the rest of the team has struggled in assisting them night after night. Finding the players to complement them has been tough, and Barnes has dipped into his fountain of youth to do so in recent weeks.
"Kevin and Armani have been pretty consistent all year," Barnes said. "We put a lot on those guys, and you think about the minutes they play ... they play almost every minute in practice. We need all of our players to help us. We are really happy with our younger players. If you go back and look at what Kyle (Alexander), Shembari (Phillips) and Admiral (Schofield) have done, they have been getting a lot of quality minutes. They have combined to average 17.3 points over the last three games, which has been good, but we still have a lot of basketball to be played, and it is consistency."
The Vols are hoping a consistent streak starts Tuesday when they take on a struggling Auburn team that has lost its last five games. Barnes' squad is also looking for a little bit of revenge after suffering his first SEC loss to the Tigers on the road Jan. 2, and striking back at Bruce Pearl's team has been made a little easier with the absence of Kareem Canty, who was suspended indefinitely for conduct detrimental to the team. Canty, who is Auburn's leading scorer, averages 18.3 points per game and is one of four players who averages double figures in scoring. The Tigers will also likely be without T.J. Dunans, the team's third-leading scorer at 12.4 points per game who suffered a knee injury and underwent surgery in early January.
"Kareem Canty is a good player, but when you go back to our game down there, he played well, but there were some other guys that hurt us, too," Barnes said. "It wasn't like he was the one guy that beat us when we were down there. There are other guys that we are going to have to deal with. January was a long time ago, and the fact is I do think we are a better team, but we are so up-and-down that I don't know what to tell you to expect."
The Tigers come in at No. 207 in kenpom.com's adjusted offensive efficiency ratings but will challenge Tennessee inside with senior forward Cinmeon Bowers, who averages close to a double-double a night with 11 points and 9 rebounds per game. Barnes is hoping the trip back home, where Tennessee has played so well this season, will reinvigorate his team as it looks to bounce back from one of its worst losses of the season.
We seem to think we are going to turn the corner in some ways," Barnes said. "Then we revert back to doing something that isn't very good."